Three Recently Acquired Seattle Startups, and How Their Founders Are Faring

10/23/09Follow @gthuang

Working for the man. It’s what most entrepreneurs want to avoid at all costs. But if their startup gets bought by a big company, that’s often just what happens—at least for a while.

Although the acquisitions market for tech startups has been relatively soft during the recession, there have been a few recent local examples to draw from. I took a highly unscientific sample of how three Seattle startups are doing post-acquisition. I wanted to hear about the cultural fit, the level of autonomy, and so forth. Not surprisingly, the ones I talked to said their transitions have gone very smoothly. Maybe the surprising thing is that I believe them (well, mostly—they did have to be pretty vague about future plans).

Here’s an update on the three startups and their founders:

Ethan Lowry, Urbanspoon (acquired by IAC in February 2009, announced in April)

The transition has been “remarkably uneventful,” Lowry says. “They’ve been very hands off.” He says IAC (NASDAQ: IACI) has been very supportive of Urbanspoon’s restaurant site, and that his team touches base with the mother ship once a week. “There’s all sorts of discussions before you get acquired. They say you’ll run your own ship…you’re kind of nodding, but what’s it really going to be like?” Lowry says. “I’ve been through other acquisitions that left you feeling more ripped out of your culture.”

He does say, half-jokingly, that Urbanspoon has gone through a “huge shift for us”—growing from three to five employees (adding a developer and a customer service person), and relocating to an office with a better view of Lake Union in Fremont, about a mile away from the old digs on Eastlake Avenue.

Last week, Urbanspoon introduced its “Scope” feature for its iPhone app, which lets you discover restaurants on the street around you by adding visual info to the camera feed on the screen. “In the beginning of summer, ‘augmented reality’ got a little bit of buzz,” Lowry says. “We thought, ‘This is cool, but seems super-gimmicky.’ We started prototyping something, and quickly discovered it’s entertaining. It’s fun, but can solve a real problem.” He adds that Urbanspoon has about 7 million installs of its iPhone app, making the Scope the biggest augmented reality app so far.

IAC’s future plans for the company are under wraps, but Lowry says Urbanspoon is … Next Page »

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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